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From eczema struggle to handmade soap success

Apr 25 2017 14:34
Liziwe Ndalana

Zikhona Tefu, founder of O'Live handmade soaps mixes oils at her workshop. (Liziwe Ndalana, Fin24)

Cape Town – Zikhona Tefu's daughter was born with eczema and over the years it became terrible. She was using various soaps to treat it, but these soaps had chemicals and they further irritated her skin.

Tefu related to Fin24: "One day I stumbled upon a natural soap at a health store and it worked. I was thinking, if it was naturally made, I could make my own."

Tefu started searching the internet for natural soap-making recipes and found plenty. Over time she learnt to create her own recipes, using essential oils and other natural ingredients like shea butter and honey.

"I started mixing these oils, experimenting along the way until I formulated my own recipe. The tutorials online were just a start as I had to learn more and upskill myself. I had to learn about oil properties. This knowledge helps you to know which oils to mix," she told Fin24.

The 38-year-old mother of three said although she started making the soap for her daughter, everyone in her family started using the soaps. Her friends and colleagues started using it and that was the beginning of  her O’Live Handmade Soaps business.

The family hasn’t bought soap since 2011.


(Tefu shares her entrepreneurial journey, which started with her seeking relief for daughter's eczema 11 years ago.)

Tefu said she and her friends used to joke about the fact that there could be a business in her product. The light bulb moment came when an ex-colleague asked her to make a gift pack for her pregnant friend in Canada. "That was my first paying customer and then I realised there is a business here," Tefu said. She was still employed at the time.

"In 2011 I quit my job, and on that day I drove straight to a store and offered them my product. I had no business know-how or business plan, no branding, logo or packaging. All I had was a product. The store agreed to take my product," Tefu recalled.

Funding, cash flow management

The Tefus funded their business with a mere R150 capital, which they used to buy ingredients for the initial soap-making process. It cost them R500 to start the business officially.

Their main challenge now is juggling personal and business finances as there is no other form of income in the household, Tefu said. Her husband Sipho, an engineer, quit his job last May to join her full-time.

"My husband has been involved in the business since its inception. When we started we had no funding; we had to make do with what we had. His engineering training helped a lot; he helped create and build the equipment we needed for the business. He made everything from molds to cutters. This came in handy as we didn't have to borrow money in order to buy the equipment," Tefu said.

With him on board, "we have to be diligent in how we manage our cash flow and finances in general", said Tefu.
The Tefus have three people selling in the townships, which enables them to have a form of income. They hope to increase this number in future.

Tefu proudly states: "The entire family is involved in the business. Our kids pick out lavender buds, which are used in making the soap, and they also help with the packaging. We're really creating a legacy for our kids. We hope that one day they wouldn't have to work for someone, but start their own thing," Tefu said.

WATCH: How 100% natural soap is made 

Local ingredients

"All our ingredients are locally sourced and a large percentage of them are bought directly from the growers.
"We know exactly where our ingredients come from. For example, we source our honey from a bee keeper from a street down the road from our home. This is important to us as a business because we create employment directly with no middle man," she told Fin24.

Tefu said she avoids fragrances and uses mostly essential oils in her soaps as they are kinder to the skin and have healing properties.

(Zikhona Tefu mixes oils for soap-making at her Woodstock workshop. Picture: Liziwe Ndalana, Fin24.)

Essential oils - INFOGRAPHIC


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